x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

China eyes resources with $20bn Africa loans

Announcement that China has promised a US$20bn credit line to Africa over the next three years comes a month after it offered $10bn in loans to Latin American countries.

BEIJING // China has promised a US$20 billion credit line to Africa over the next three years as it looks to further its access to resources while developing infrastructure.

The announcement by the Chinese president Hu Jintao comes just a month after Beijing offered $10 billion (Dh36.7bn) in loans to Latin American countries in a further indication of China's growing global reach as its economy continues its expansion.

Mr Hu's pledge was made at a China-Africa forum in Beijing yesterday and was double the size of the loans to Africa announced at the last such gathering three years ago.

In recent years China's trade with Africa has grown rapidly to $166 billion, with vast amounts of raw materials shipped to China, and cheap Chinese-made consumer goods sent in the other direction.

With China's growing engagement in Africa have come fears that Beijing's no questions asked mode of operation has propped up despotic regimes and ignored environmental and human rights concerns.

Making the offer of financial assistance, to be used on infrastructure, agricultural and manufacturing projects, Mr Hu insisted China would "forever be a good friend" to Africa's people.

"China wholeheartedly and sincerely supports African countries to choose their own development path, and will wholeheartedly and sincerely support them to raise their development ability," he said.

Despite Mr Hu's upbeat words, there were signs yesterday, however, that some African nations believe that they should be getting more out of their relationship with China.

The South African president Jacob Zuma said the current situation in which African nations helped to "supply of raw materials, other products and technology transfer" was "unsustainable in the long term".

While Mr Zuma insisted that "in our relationship with China we are equals and that agreements entered into are for mutual gain", the South African trade and industry minister Rob Davies indicated that his country was keen to do more than just send raw materials to China.

African nations have, like Latin American countries, supplied China with materials such as copper and iron ore.

"We need to export mineral products in a more processed form ... We need to bite this bullet very seriously," Mr Davies told journalists in Beijing.

Campaigners have argued that China can undermine attempts to improve governance on the continent by offering no strings attached loans in place of alternative sources of finance that may be conditional on anti-corruption measures or respect for basic human rights.

That many Chinese companies that develop infrastructure in Africa employ their own nationals instead of locals has also been a source of friction.

Perhaps in recognition of these concerns, China yesterday said it would offer training or scholarships to nearly 50,000 Africans.

Despite the strength of China's relationship with Africa, there have recently been missteps, with oil projects closed down because of tension between Sudan and South Sudan.

Also, the turmoil in Libya and subsequent poor relations with the new regime has forced the suspension of billions of dollars worth of oil and infrastructure schemes by Chinese companies in the country.

dbardsley@thenational.ae

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